Business Development Planner Patricia Reynolds has three pictures from a color copier taped to her office wall at City Hall. They are pictures of urns flaked with white that look as if they were retrieved from a shipwreck in the Aegean Sea.
The urns are not that old and not from that far away. They are made of copper, not porcelain, and they once stood like 12 sentinels on the Warwick City Hall tower.
The pictures are a testament to the tower’s former grandeur and how time and weather has stolen the tower’s sheen. What’s of even greater concern, the tower has been compromised. There’s no fear that it will come down, but the leaks promise to get worse and ultimately cause damage to the extensive renovations of Council Chambers.
Warwick City Hall was designed by renowned Rhode Island architects, William Walker and Sons. It was completed in 1893. As it was then, the building’s massive bell tower with its copper dome and weathervane is Apponaug’s dominate feature. It’s more than that. The tower, rising above the building’s columned portico and double mahogany door entrance, pinpoints the center of Warwick government. It is Warwick.
City Hall is on the National Register of Historic Places, an important factor in the city winning a $350,000 Save America’s Treasures grant from the National Park Service and a $50,000 grant from the Rhode Island Historic Preservation and Heritage Commission. Last month, the City Council approved a $772,035 bid to restore the tower.
Work is projected to be completed by this fall, but getting to this point has taken two years and extensive work. Reynolds has boxes filled with drawings, pictures and narratives of tower conditions and what must be done to restore it. Grant applications and bid specifications are lengthy documents.
“We’re very pleased with the bids,” says Reynolds.
The selected contractor is EF O’Donnell and Sons of Providence, which have done other restoration work on City Hall. O’Donnell submitted the lowest of four bids and ranked top in a scoring system that weighed work experience, an understanding of the work and price. O’Donnell was a clear first place.
In analyzing the bids, Reynolds explained, she compared components of the job, such as replacement of the balustrade of the portico. The mahogany balustrade was replaced in the last 30 years with foam imitations that, at the time, were believed to outlast the originals, but they are already deteriorating. The details of the bids, she said, reflected an understanding of the work to be done and a contractor’s experience.
Surprisingly, the bid is not much more than that received in 2009, said Reynolds. The need for the work was recognized back then, however the city didn’t have the funding or the grants at the time.
The work includes restoration of the three faces of the tower clock but not the interior mechanism. A new copper dome will give the tower a reddish-brown cap until the metal takes on a green tint with age and weather. It doesn’t stop there. Bid specifications are made up of scores of details, from replacing wood rafters and decking in the bell loft, to masonry work throughout the tower, painting and even the fabrication of brass letters for the weathervane.
To perform the work, O’Donnell will erect scaffolding to not interfere with access to the building. Also, Reynolds noted, the Apponaug Village Improvement Association will be able to conduct its summer concert series on the steps of City Hall as planned.
Mayor Scott Avedisian pointed out the importance of the project to preserving what the city has already invested in the interior of the building. Restoring those copper urns would just be another way of saying we care for our city.